Today's welcome guest is Helen Dineen, a picture book author and mum of two living on the south coast of England. Helen signed with the Anne Clark Literary Agency last year and is hoping that 2014 is the year her stories might find a publisher. She also reviews book apps for young children at http://capptivatedkids.wordpress.com. Find her on Twitter @aitcheldee and @capptivatedkids
I've been blogging about kids' apps for nearly two years with my children (now aged 6 and 4) - as a parent rather than a writer. Back in 2011, I joined Twitter looking for publishers and authors to follow as I got more serious about writing my own stories. One of the first I followed was Kate Wilson, who was tweeting about Nosy Crow's very first app, The Three Little Pigs. As soon as I had an iPad I downloaded it and was instantly hooked. The Three Little Pigs showed me how good apps can be. Since then the explosion in story apps leading to the creation of the Interactive Stories section on the App Store shows there is a real market for them.
But books and apps are very different beasts. I couldn't find specific research on the use of book apps, so I conducted a very unscientific Twitter survey. 11 out of 12 replies counted book apps as screen time, and at least 9 out of 12 restricted their use with their children. One replied, " Nice way for kids to "read" on own, but we do limit all screen time... Always make time to read real books!" Only one did not distinguish between apps and books and added "I don't restrict time on them as we do anything to encourage reading."
With this in mind, I hope there will be increasing opportunities for picture book writers to write apps, while being confident that "real" books will not be abandoned by young children or their parents and carers any time soon.
What Apps Do Well
28% of 3-4 year olds use a tablet computer at home[i] . Picture books are particularly well suited to reading on tablets due to their relatively short length, highly illustrated nature, interactivity (e.g. lift the flap) and the ease of use of tablets for young children. There are a number of benefits for storytellers:
· Freedom from format constrictions such as number of pages and story structure. You can create a story with multiple pathways (Little Red Riding Hood, Sleepy Mole) or a circular life cycle story (Franklin Frog, Parker Penguin).
· Have the reader change the story with their own suggestions (Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App uses the microphone for this).
· Add atmosphere through narration, music and sound effects.
· Add interactivity which draws the reader into the story e.g. solve a puzzle to reach the next page (Bartleby's Buttons) or show the reader reflected in a mirror using the iPad camera (Nosy Crow's Cinderella).
|Little Red Riding Hood|
Apps Need Picture Book Authors!
I would love to see more established names producing original content with app developers (and I do think it is a shame Julia Donaldson could not be persuaded to take up the baton when Children's Laureate.) Original content produced specifically for the iPad is almost always better than transferring an existing picture book across. The interactivity can be developed alongside the story as one product rather than an add-on. Some aspects of existing books just don't work. To take one example, page turns often lose their impact when you have broken up the storytelling with interactivity. "And then he saw an ever so silly... [tap, tap, tap, make things move, after a few minutes turn the page] ...crocodile!" [wait, how did this sentence start again?]
I also think quality story apps can compete with games. Two parents responding to my Twitter survey said book apps count as "Good screen time". Another said " ...count them as screen time as they're often so interactive -to the point where [she] refers to them as games." Indeed the concern about apps replacing paper books is a distraction I think, from the wider issue of books losing out to TV, games and the internet as highlighted in BookTrust's latest reading habits survey. The more that reading can sneakily join up with gameplay in apps like Nosy Crow's Jack and the Beanstalk and Alph and Betty's Topsy-Turvy World, the better. I would also like to see more picture books connected to apps, providing extra content linking the two (see Moira's predictions in January).
I do think the opportunity is there to create more "good screen time." But I also think there are many ways in which picture books still have the edge.
|Alph and Betty's Topsy Turvy World|
Where Picture Books Win
It is so easy to see a picture book on the shelf, pick it up and start reading! It is much easier to share a book at home, in preschool and with a class. If you spill juice on it, you've only lost one book. You can borrow piles of them from the library at a time for free. Let's face it, tablets are expensive and although many app developers provide video trailers so you can see what you are buying, you do still need to purchase every app you use. It's possible to gift an app, but not nearly as exciting for a small child with nothing to unwrap on their birthday.
When reading, the parent is better able to control the use of the book and pace of the story with a -book. Narration is the norm on apps - "When I use the iPad I don't read with them, I let them use it on read-to-me mode." This means the experience of reading a book is usually more shared with parents who spend time talking around the story more, doing all the silly voices, and getting involved in their children's world. You can touch and feel the pages, which can also be bigger - particularly good for large or detailed illustrations. You can't reproduce the impact of a huge, intricate double spread on an iPad!
And finally, using a book is easy. You turn the page, and read. When it comes to apps, there is no standard for activating page turns, turning narration on/off and so on. Every app is different, and children need to learn how they work. It isn't a big barrier for tech-savvy toddlers, but it is there.
There are some great apps for this age group out there, and I hope more established picture book authors might get involved in writing original content and tapping in to the possibilities to merge storytelling and gameplay. But I don't believe technology will ever kill off picture books - books will wriggle up and make room for apps as they did for TV. In fact it may well be TV which loses out in the battle for children's attention. For this age group in particular it will be for parents to find the balance, and hopefully still choose to curl up with their child and a book or two.
Want to find out more? Here are three of my favourites -
And see this great blog post by Kate Wilson on writing children's picture book apps.